Jerusalem [Take Two]

Nowadays the amount of games published is impressive and is not easy for a game to pass the test and avoid the dusty shelf. We all know that is not a good practice to judge a game after reading the rules or just after a single play: otherwise the pressure of the new comings is impressive and so, seldom, we offer a game more than 2 chances.

We are used to write first impressions and also previews from the rules: I want start to write a series of review based on the impressions after just 2 plays. the title of the series will be: Take Two.

Jerusalem is a clever area-control game from Michele Mura, designer of Lungarno and Easy School. Players are Barons trying to get prestige taking control of key area in Jerusalem.

At the beginning of the 12th Century, European families conquered Jerusalem. The city became a theater for power struggles and bloody clashes. The King’s Palace, the Holy Sepulcher, and the Tower of David were the keys to control of the city. Crusades, new Patriarchs, and the politics of the region constantly altered the fates of the families. Which Baron will prove most able? Who’s castle will tower over the rest?

Here in the preamble and in the nice graphics is all the theme: the game itself is quite abstract and Michele Mura shows again to be a German designer despite he is from Pisa.

The game is played in 5 rounds every round split in 4 phase: bid, deploy, collect and events.

In the first phase players are bidding for Offices cards to set the turn order and the amount of squires you can deploy in phase two. Every turn also are drawn as many actions cards as players. Going first means you can chose which action card take, you get more squires but you can’t react to other players playing on the board after you apart blocking an area with your Baron. All this including little benefits offered by some Offices will make the bidding one of the crucial part of the game: is not a trivial decision to choose the right Office and it could be other players are looking for the same.

The second phase is deployment. In turn order each player place all his squires (some could be preserved for the next turn) and the Baron. The city of Jerusalem is divided into five Districts. Each District, in turn, is split into three Areas: one large area and two smaller ones. In addition, there is the Tower of David, which is made of only one Area. To control an Area you need to have more squires than any other player. To control a district you need to have more squires in the three areas of the district than any other player.

You can place your Baron in an Area only if you have placed at least three new squire in the same area; the Baron prevent other players to place squires in the area. Going first offers in that way the possibility to secure just one area and could be sometimes enough to justify a race for the first Office. If you need extra squires you can hire mercenaries but the cost is high and it’s an option seldom used.

The squires stay in place until the end of the game and could be removed only with event or action cards, causing a progressive contest for area and district control.

The third phase is collecting: first the player controlling the tower of David can move one squire from the Tower of David to any other Area in the city that is not blocked by a Baron; this could be enough to get control of an area and/or a district and is something important you can easily leave behind in the deploy phase in the first plays. After that are assigned the district privileges and finally the areas revenues.

Privileges and revenues are all about getting money (used for bidding), prestige (used to build the Castle tower that is, actually, the way to score and win) and squires.

The third phase end with the tower construction: to rise a floor has an increasing cost in prestige points and be the first one to build a specific floor is more expensive: a simple rule to prevent early run. The winner is the player with the highest tower at the end of the game (prestige points are used for break-even) and it is not so easy to focus on that during the game: money and squires are only the way you can get prestige and prestige is the only thing you need to construct floor.

At the end of second, third and fourth turn there is the event phase: an event card is revealed usually causing some major change in one or more district. It is important to know what the event cards are doing before playing (are just 4 and only 3 are used during the game).
The action cards concern mostly in getting money and squires or moving squires and are usually useful.

The game works really well and the fight for prestige and area control is tense. Is not really nothing new but a nice mix of known mechanism with some clever idea. The graphics and material are good and the rules are well written. Jerusalem passed the “Take Two” test.